Sunday, August 12, 2012

Countdown to Thirty!

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, how it could have possibly come to this, but I'm turning thirty this week and I'm sure as hell not excited about it. For the past 11 months and 27 days it's been looming in the foggy background of my reluctant consciousness, and whenever it threatened to take a clearer form, I'd just shrug it off and declare that "I will cling on to 29 for four or five years at least and everybody can just stuff it thaaaaanks."

However, now that it is actually upon me, I decided that I'm going to be rational about it, and I will accept the fact that yes I do have 3 white hairs growing at my temple, and that I also have a couple of laugh lines that I worked very hard for. To help me in this endeavour I have tried to carry out a quick run through of the last decade which will allow me to discover whether:

a. the twenties sucked ... in that case, bring on the thirties! or
b. the twenties were awesome ... in which case that is a result of me being awesome, which is something that can only increase with again bring on the thirties!

Either way, I'm coming out as a winner out of this post, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, I'll stop hyperventilating at the thought of what will happen in four day's time.

So ... let the countdown begin!!

Age 20

The twenties begin. Lost my mum. Passed my third year law final exams (no idea how - must have been the nutella I stuffed myself with). Established myself as a survivor.

Age 21

Got my first degree, celebrated and cried like there was no tomorrow. Travelled to Barcelona, and then to Vienna, and then to Cairo, and then to Barcelona again ... twice. Slept in a military camp during my third visit. Woke up to the sound of Bon Dia every morning. Discovered Spanish hunkiness. Failed Succession Law (of course I friggin did), a circumstance that set all other events in motion and changed my life. Passed my notarial law finals.

Age 22

Packed my bags and left the country for a year. Discovered that there is life beyond the cliffs, and that a train can lead you to everywhere you want when you are not stuck on an island. Learnt to listen, discover, tolerate. Laughed, cried, cared, grew. Got my second degree. Not as exciting as the first time.

Age 23

Came back to Malta and almost suffocated. Too small, too closed, too trivial. Went back to the law course and hated every minute of it. Tried to find a way to leave the island again. Failed. This year sucked.

Age 24

Started working on my thesis and got myself my first full time job. Did not actually mind writing my thesis, even though I have no idea now what the hell I was trying to prove (or disprove). Probably my tutor didn't either. Passed my exams. Was a trainer in an Anti Tobacco European Youth conference. Smoked more than I should have (at the time, I wasn't made of the same kind of awesome). Fell in love. Got my heart broken for reasons that made sense much later.

Age 25

Got my final degree. Couldn't have been less bothered. Uneventful year. Fell in love again. Got my heart broken again.

Age 26

Got the job I wanted and was deliriously happy about it for the following three years. Broke someone's heart (what the hell? It had to happen to sometime!) and confirmed that dumping is so much easier than being dumped. No wonder so many people did it to me. Ended a 15+ year friendship. No regrets, a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do!

Age 27

Have absolutely no idea what happened this year. Must have been pretty boring. Yeah ... guess what? I fell in love! And guess what ... wait for it, I got my heart broken! (I think I need my own TV show called "How I still have to meet your father"). Became a Home Owner and sold my soul HSBC for the next 30 years. Started a very special journey which changed my life ...

Age 28

Amicably parted ways with the church I was baptised in after being called "a wolf in lamb's clothing" for actually caring and accepting the fact that life is not a rainbow of christian happiness. Catholic-guilt free life is liberating. Should have thought about it sooner. Went to Ghana to do voluntary work. Somehow survived it. I truly rock.

Age 29

The final year. I spent most of it being disillusioned, demotivated, gratuitiously nasty and bit more heads off than I would like to admit. I also discovered my alter-ego Gracie, who is not much of an alter ego really since everyone knows who I am (joys of living on The Island).

Incredibly enough, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, rich land-owner from Derbyshire was, after more than 10 years, ousted from the top spot of Most Perfect Fictional Character EVER, by one Mr Peeta Mellark, baker from Disrict 12, Panem. The living Jaw that played his part in the movie version had nothing to do with it. Really. Seriously. Mmmmmm... that jaw. This damn baker set an unreachable bar of male perfection that no Real Guy can live up to. Hate him. But love him more.

Received an entirely unexpected surprise that is making my 29th year end on a totally positive note with a challenge which I'm very willing to take. And to top all the craziness, I ended my last weekend of my twenties at a Foam Party of the kind that I was introduced as "this is "Gracie" and she's a heterosexual!" and where the ratio of straight people to gay was like 1:10000. But I'm awesome really ... and managed to have an amazing time even though surrounded by gorgeous men who had absolutely no interest in what I had to offer, completely drenched to the bone by foam and with a mild onset of pneumonia.

My plans for the coming decade are vague, but somehow they will also include the conception of a MiniMe who will own her own pink laptop and will blog about her "many varied adventures at play school" and a visit to a coffee shot in Brooklyn with a laptop as I write my novel. Which by the way, will probably include a faghag at a foam party.

All I know however is that the twenties are ending on a high ... and I want to ride that wave into the next decade.

I'm going to be 30 dammnit, and I'm going to bloody well enjoy it :).


Middle Aged Gracie :) xxx

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'twas time for Africa!

A year ago exactly, I arrived in Ghana for what was to be an unforgettable (both in the good, and in the bad) experience of voluntary work in the village of Adentia. I cannot say that I look back at the time with nostalgia, or with a desire to go back, because I'm one of those people who has learnt to move on quite easily from an experience once that is over and done with. It was a lifelong dream, which was achieved, but which I will not repeat. However, I do think of those days with a certain fondness, especially when I think of the people with whom I lived the experience, and who I re-met just this week to share an amazing evening (and rabbit...and ice-cream).

A year on, some details are fuzzy, but I rediscovered the diary I kept at the time, and the emails I sent to my loved ones, and I thought I might share the latter, because they truly capture the mood I was in, and when it comes to first hand experiences of the Ghanaian life, it doesn't get more accurate than this :).

Hope you enjoy reading these emails as much as I enjoyed writing them in a little hut in the middle of friggin nowhere :) (special thanks to Voafone and its internet key :D)

PS Have removed names for obvious reasons.

1st August 2011:

Hello dears!

Greetings from Ghana, also known as “Africa for Beginners” writing to you from our little house in Adantia, a small rural village 20 minutes away from Sunyani, which in turn is a decent sized town which we are planning to visit this morning to get some provisions and have a look around.

But let’s go by order … our group (made up of 8 – 5 girls and 3 boys) arrived in Ghana last Monday afternoon after spending the night in Cairo in a very nice hotel supplied by Egyptair. Our first laugh occurred when we realised that we were also sharing the hotel with a hundred or so pilgrims on their way to Mecca whose idea of enjoying a buffet is very much akin to that of the noble patrons of Brittania Tours “ejja Guz! Gib iktar hobz ghat triq!!”. Managing to get a plateful meant having to brave a storm of flowing robes, veils, beards, praises to Allah and a hundred hands reaching for the same chicken. Insomma … qisna ir-Riviera Hotel waqt is-Sunday Lunch (change praises to Allah to swearing bil-Mulej and you kind of get the picture!).

Anyway, on Monday we landed in Accra, where we were picked up by Father ********, a Maltese missionary living in Ghana, and driven to Ashaiman at the Salesian compound where we could settle down a little and get our bearings back. The Compound is very sheltered, and hosts a boys’ hostel, a technical school (where boys and girls have the option to learn secretarial, autorepairing, IT and electrical skills), and a Church. The girls’ hostel is a few km away and run by the Salesian nuns tafu intom, ma jmurx ikun hemm ic-cajt bil-lejl. The students leave this school in their mid twenties with some real working skills, which secures them, at the very least, a better life inside the village.

On Wednesday we visited Tema New Town, a fishing slum which also hosts a small Salesian School that prepares children to be integrated into the state system of schooling. We met the children there and played with them, and it was my real taste of what poverty in Africa might look like (but always keeping in mind that in Ghana, things are actually not that bad). Education is extremely valued here, and one can easily understand why… it seems to be the only tiny ray of hope to get a life outside the slums.

On Wednesday evening we left for Wli to see the highest waterfall in Ghana, it was a four hour trip in a tiny van, which also included an incident where the driver admitted that he had absolutely no idea where our hotel was, and so recruited a man from a nearby village to hop on and give him directions. This guide was rewarded by us with an original signed Liverpool T-Shirt and we were really surprised to see that on Thursday evening, on our way back, this man was waiting for us at the village with all his friends to show us that he was wearing his new T-shirt and looking quite smug about it!

On Friday we started our 8 hour journey to Sunyani, in an airconditioned coach showing a hit Ghanaian series called “Evil Soul I II III IV V VI VII” (yes we saw them all), with a hit tune “she’s an evil soul sent from the darkness to sin, she’s an evil soul sent from the darkness to kill and destroy”. We’ve been humming the damn tune ever since.

Nevertheless, our desire to sing was momentarily subdued when we saw the house where we would be living for the following 3 weeks. With hanging cobwebs, hard beds and dirty rooms, it was a sorry sight indeed… but on Saturday we armed ourselves with bleach, dettol and some good will and rendered the place habitable. It’s not easy to live in a rural village in Africa, where the only source of light is one lightbulb (energy and light saving since it makes absolutely no difference in a dark room), and where the only source of water is a communal pump. The locals are having a field day with us, when they see us struggling with actually working a pump which children seem to have mastered before they reach the age of 10. We are the “useless obruni” and the giggles that we hear every time we try to carry our buckets of water to the house seem to increase with every trip Imma x’taghmel … it’s part of the fun!

Yesterday we went to mass in a little chapel in the middle of nowhere where people walk up to 7 km to attend service. As I watched the villagers, donning their best clothes, and praising the lord in spite of their poverty and dire living conditions, I do feel rather humbled, but a little voice in my head also reminds of me of the whole “opium” theory of Marx. It is very clear that the hope of these people rests in the afterlife, since the current one seems to be rather disappointing. Having said that however, I’ve realised that the smiles with which the children greet you while playing in the dirt and muck created by the mixture of mud and animal (?) dung, are wider, brighter and more sincere than in many of the children in the western world who have everything without asking for it. So really, who am I to judge their life when they probably are much happier with the little joys of every day, than I might ever be with my big plans?

Musings over. This week we have to prepare for summer camp that starts on the 8th August with the Ghanaian volunteers, and we also will be visiting some other remote villages to carry out some impromptu lessons and activities with the children. We will be teaching English, Maths and Religion (Alla Maghna!!! ME TEACHING RELIGION? DAWN BIS SERJETA?) and the school day will run from 8.30 till 4 with a 2 hour break. So for those who are doubting … vera ha nkun qed nahdem ta!

Anyway, this email is reaching epistolary proportions, so I will stop here, especially since I have no idea whether I will be able to send this email. As a final note – my hair is braided wiiiiii!!! It’s pulls like hell, but it is so convenient not have to worry about your hair in a scenario where even the most basic hygiene is a luxury! I got it braided in the village, where the hairdressing “salon” is really a bench in the middle of a clearing where turkeys, goats, naked babies, kittens and chickens all live together in one happy chaotic heap! L--aqwa li ta hdejja kienet qed tizbogh xaghra isfar

Over and out. This is Africa!

5th August:

Hello all,

Here is update number 2 :). During this week we settled down in our home in Adantia and also visited other tribes and remote villages to play with the children and organise activities for them. One of the villages we went to was Tainso, which is located about 1hr away from Adantia, but, in the words of Brother ******* “800 years away from civilisation”. Before I go on with describing the village, I guess it is also worth a minute or two of your reading time to describe the various fathers and brothers that are in contact with us from the Salesian community and come to help us and transport us to any required destination :).

Then there is Brother *********, an ******** from ******* whose talents are:

- cycling every day from Dingli to St Julians when stationed in Malta
- having breakfast with Ugo Mifsud Bonnici
- fitting in 8 volunteers, a novice, a dressmaker, a catechist, 2 kids and a dead grasscutter (like a massive rat) in a pickup truck.

Father *********, an ********** from ********* whose talents consist in:

- fitting in 8 volunteers, a novice, 2 catechists, 4 children and a motorcycle on a pick up truck
- speaking in a way that provides great pre-bedtime entertainment in trying to come up with the best impersonation (left or right? Right or left? Where do I go? Oh oh!).

With this bracket over, we can go back to a description of Tainso, which is pretty much what Super Quark and National Geographic show us. People are poor and dirty, kids are under nourished with swollen bellies and big needy eyes. A little toddler took a fancy to me, and wanted to spend the afternoon cuddling and snuggling with me. Since the fancy was mutual (although she really is the most serious little pretty cookie I’ve ever seen) and I felt like cuddles and snuggles myself, I happily obliged and in no time at all she was snoring peacefully away on me :). Rejoice! My maternal instinct was stirred! The end of the world is nigh … The villagers were very amused with our little bond, and I’m half expecting a sealed package with punched holes next Christmas from Ghana!

Adantia and Tainso have no running water, but Tainso does not even have electricity or a mobile network. Yet, strangely enough, many of the villagers have a mobile phone which they charge at a very enterprising guy who set up his own stall, with a large battery and a crooked smile. I guess business must be quite good!

Another fun fact of Ghana is the names given to the various “shops” (stalls or rickety huts) that are set up all over the place, like roundabouts for example, where “God is Beauty Hair Salon” is set up next “God’s Time is My Time Electrical Repairer”. The Ghanaians are very Christian, and these kind of names are seen everywhere. It is quite amusing really, although if we had to board a taxi with a large “God Forgive me!” written on the back, we would have had to admit a certain nervousness :).

Anyway, back on track… after the days spent in the tribes, today was allocated towards lesson preparation for the summer camp. I’ve been assigned to teach English in Primary 3, and to assist in Maths and Religious and Moral Education (which works brilliantly for me, since I’m not very confident in right angled triangles and the glory of the afterlife). However, my attention was caught by a pumping party which was going on in the village and we decided to explore, only to find out that it was a funeral in pure Ghanaian style … everyone dressed in black and red and partying like there is no tomorrow in the Sunglasses At Night kind of way! Quite fascinating really, especially since according to our calculations, this party lasted more than 6 hours…

But as everyone says here, this is Africa. And it is beautiful.

Hugs and love xxxxxx

9th August:

Hello dears,

It’s 7am here in Ghana and we just woke up to prepare the lessons for the children. To all those who think that we seem to be late planners, we have an excuse! Until yesterday we had no real idea what the level of knowledge of the kids is, and also last night, instead of preparing resources, we were invited by the bishop for a visit at his home. The bastard has running water of course. Enough said. The bishop also gave us a very interesting description of traditional Ghanaian culture and explained that the society in the rural villages is a matriarchal one, which is a polite term for saying that Ghanaian men do jacksh*t. The males have no say in anything, but it’s fair enough since they really don’t do much. Children are brought up by their mothers and the brothers of their mothers (ma tantx rajt zijiet ihabblu ghajnhom imma to be honest), and the men spend the looking helplessly around.


Anyway, since the last time I wrote to you we met up with a group of Italian volunteers (who live in the community house in Sunyani so ….Altogether now … they have running water! :D … qed tkiddni wisq din lol). They’re very nice, apart from the fact that they are from Turin and therefore are bianconeri nel cuore. I was very quick in setting the record straight of where my loyalties lie :). On Saturday evening we went to a club with them, stile Havana, but fun! We asked them to visit us so that we can show them how eight of us can live in a house of 50m2 while also sharing the space with a little mouse which seemed to have taken a fancy to our biscuits :). We also had a little visit by a scorpion, which we were all fascinated by. When we told Don *********** about it (special contributive factor to our adventure: being 2m tall and weiging 45 kilos!) he was shocked and hoped that we had killed it. Of course we hadn’t. One of us had even stuck a camera to it with a bright flash.

Anyhoo, as I said, real lessons started yesterday, and I’m teaching Primary 3 kids whose names range from Okyege to Prince, Comfort, Rejoice and Patience. The kids seem to be all very sweet although there is a girl in an upper class who definitely seems to need to have her face remodelled by the sole of my muddy shoes (and that is why teaching is not my vocation :P). The lesson plan for today is nouns and plurals …. Fingers crossed :). The afternoon is characterised by group games for the children who are divided into “houses” and get points like in Sports Day. Tifo da stadio sans vuvuzela (at least!).

One of us was injured during these games, and spent a few hours at a private doctor, but on the whole, we are surviving relatively unscathed!

On a funny note, the ******* priest, Father *****, has turned up to the summer camp dressed as a saintly Indiana Jones, with a side satchel with the face of Don Bosco printed on it, a shirt with Mary Help of Christians printed on it, and a female hat. We have all decided that he should be turned into a keychain and brought back to Malta. His other talent is also of placing “full stops” in his sentences in the wrong place, so his sermons sound something like this:

“It is important [full stop] for the CHILDREN [shouted] to eat[full stop] BREAKFAST! Insomma you get the idea. :)

That’s it for today … on a final note, I’m looking forward to this weekend, where we’re going to visit a lake about 4hrs away from here. Ha mmur lesta bix-shampoo ha nahsel xaghri u noqtol xi zewg eco systems!!! :).

Miss you all and see you in 2 weeks! Xxxxx

13th August

Dear all,

It’s update 4 at the beginning of week 4 of my stay in Ghana. This last week has gone by in a flash, summer camp has begun in full swing! We leave our “house” and mousey housemate at 8am, to welcome the children and prepare them for assembly. Lessons start at 9 and continue until 12. After that, games at 14.00 until 16.30, followed by evaluation till 17.00. This past week I put in all my dedication, effort, enthusiasm and professionalism into the teaching of plurals with not extremely satisfactory results “1 cat, 2 catses! 1 man, 2 manses! 1 bench, 2 benchs! Which letters are the same between MAN and woman? Madame madame!! Yes, Agjemang? U!!!!!”. Sigh. Tomorrow I’m going to give them a little test and if they get them wrong, flip it, they have lived their lives without plurals so far, they will manage perfectly well for the next 50 years or so! Having, said that however, I do have my own little teacher’s pet in the classroom, a cute little boy called Prince who sits on the front bench, raises his hand constantly and provides some satisfaction to my short academic life :). When he grows up and becomes a Professor of Everything, I hope he will remember the white girl who taught him that words with a “ch” sound take an “es” as plural. :)

Summer camp also means that we have our very own “Mary Help of Christians” polo-shirt, printed by a very enterprising young woman called ******* whose marketing skills ar of a particularly persuasive nature … in the words of Don ****** “she talks and talks and out of desperation you buy”. E cosi e’ stato!

As I said, this week was quite full, and it also included dancing the waka waka during afternoon assembly, and buying three live chickens for us to kill and cook for dinner. When I say “us”, I actually mean the boys, and when I say boys I actually mean, 2 boys and a third one excitedly taking pictures and extracting “unlaid” eggs to the nauseated disgust of the girls. One of the boys (training to be a doctor) informed me that apparently a chicken has 4 *medicalgibberish* chambers in its heart like human beings. I’m sure it’s important info … I guess I should google it and store it for future reference!

On a positive note however, the chickens were carved with surgical precision. Mater Dei is in safe hands!

Anyhoo, the most exciting part of the week was the arrival of Don ***** with a tub of nutella! After much screaming, jumping, hugging and mass hysteria, 1 auditor, 2 accountants, 1 teacher, 1 assistant head, 1 doctor to be and a project manager (tal-OWPIEMMMM) were happily digging fingers and spoons in the tub without a shred of dignity. Breakfast is now pane e nutella (come la nazionale italiana di calcio!), and the world is a better place!

This past week I was also involved in a demonstration for the “Promotion of Religion, Science and Technology for a Better Economy”. In my not so humble opinion, this country seems to be very much sorted in terms of religion - “God is the head Carpentry Shop” and “God’s Style is the Best Boutique” – but would do no harm in investing a little bit more in Science and Technology, tafu intom, maybe trying to find a way to make the mud houses last more than three years. Incidentally, I think I seem to have arrived in Ghana in the third year of the houses’ existence ghax kollox qisu ha jaqa. Imma whatever rocks their boat after all :).

This weekend we booked a van (the driver’s religious affiliation seemed to have been towards Chelsea FC) and went to the Lake Bosuntswe, a beautiful lake caused by a falling meteor (thaaaaaaanks meteor!!!) where we swam, and ate and slept and WASHED and had a lovely break :). My hair shines and I’m squeaky clean, but I’m still looking forward to my first week in Malta where I will take care of fixing myself with various hairdresser, beautician and spa appointments. I haven’t looked this ugly since puberty!!! :).

Anyway dears, I’m not sure whether this will be my last update until I’m back … probably it will not be since I’m not receiving any of your smses :(. I’m not sure what’s wrong, unless you all decided to give me the silent treatment at the same time and stop answering my smses, but I am kind of hoping that this is not the case :). I will try and write a final email before embarking on the long journey home starting from Thursday night to Ashaiman, Saturday morning to Cairo, and Sunday morning to Malta. I will see most of you on Sunday evening and on Monday (waaaaaaaaa work!) so until then, I wish you all a great, fruitful and summery week!

Missing you all! Xxx

I did not manage to write another email after this one, I celebrated my 29th birthday three days later with an amazing surprise party and cake. I wept and laughed at the same time like never before, and made my way back home a few days later and lived a year after that to tell the tale :). I also stared at the washing machine for half an hour on the day of my return, and loved it with a passion that I have yet to feel again. Just saying.

Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of my experience in Africa before I became Gracie and started rambling about nonsense :).

Hugs and smiles

Gracie :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gracie goes to England (and gets 3000 hits!)

Curiouser and curiouser. TomKat are splitting up, Adele is knocked up, Balotelli managed to impregnate his ex girlfriend who somehow wants to be with him after he cheated on her with any two [long] legs that carried a uterus who happened to crossed his path.

And curiousest of them all, my blog has reached 3000 hits!! Now, for a blog that is updated sporadically and mostly deals with certified nonsense, that is a real satisfaction ... so thank you! If you happen to see me around, come up and speak to me about it. I might offer you a diet coke, if it's a good financial day. In all probability however, it won't be, so you might just get a toothy grin (I have about 30000 teeth) and a hand shake.

Anyhooooo ... all the above happened in the last few days where I was away from the island so I'm hazy on the details, and not that bothered. So that's just about all you're going to hear about it. What you WILL be hearing about however, is the lovely three days I spent in the company of old friends who(m? dammit) I haven't seen in too long, and who I have actually really missed.

I was in the UK for the weekend, attending the wedding of a close friend and the ridiculously awesome guy she just married. Honestly, she married a dude whose wedding speech was based on a comparison between their love and Brazil nuts... and it was the sweetest thing I've ever heard. A true keeper, and I cannot be happier for the two of them. It was also the first civil ceremony I had ever attended, and I was moved beyond words, in a way which the pompous traditionalism which stifles our weddings never ever affected me. Just the way the couple looked and clung to each other, and the soothing lilt of the Indian (2nd generation?) woman who wed them warmed my heart more than any sermon and bombastic choirs could ever do.

This trip was not only made special by this wedding, but also by the little moments that filled my heart with joy and peace in a way I did not really believe was so much possible (I had quite a rage filled, angsty first half of year FYI) anymore - random laughter while reenacting CSI Miami (good old Horatio) at Kings Cross Station, the haunting beauty of Pachelbel's Canon played by a string quartet at Covent Garden, the shared looks and shy smiles with the young, serious man who was spending a late Sunday morning with his grandfather in a tiny cafe in St Albans, and sitting at my window in a tiny inn while drinking tea and watching the rain fall.

Holy cow. I seem to have lost my edge.

Well, the one major thing I realised though in these past days is that even though I relish the feeling of anonymity in a big city ("where no one knows my naaaaaaaaaame" is what I sing/screech along in my car on a daily basis after all), I also loved the village feeling of politeness and neighbourly care in St Albans. So it seems that whether I am one comfortably ignored and ignoring in a London subway, happy in the fact that no one CARES, or whether I am walking in a market in a little town being called "darlin'" by a random stranger, I can actually manage to be completely at ease and satisfied with my lot. Charles Dickens v Jane Austen = a complete draw.

Which means, that I'm a more adjusted, well put together sort of person than I give myself credit for. So, probably, if I try and pull myself together, and give getting along with people a better shot, I might actually once again enjoy being around my fellow islanders on this small bit of rock.

Of course, do not expect miracles. If you happen to be in my life, and you generally suck, then we're not going to get along. Just deal with it.

Serving you all a cuppa full of hugs,

Gracie xx

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writing your own novel - Gracie's guidance notes

There is no denying the inevitable fact that I will be thirty in less than two months time. Now, if that were not traumatizing enough (and believe me, the way I'm hanging on to the last few weeks of being in my twenties is pathetic), it is also scary in the way it reminds me of all the things that I had set up myself to do before reaching the big Three-OH!and which, sadly did not.

I have already spoken about my wish list in an earlier blog, so won't go into all the details again, but there is one particular failed mission that is really quite disappointing. I have to face the harsh reality that the novel I had planned to write before my thirtieth birthday is not only not quite finished, but not even quite started. And by "quite started" I mean not started, at all, not even close. And by that I mean, I haven't, in the words of Phoebe Buffay, even written the page numbers yet. Having said that, not writing my own novel gave me the time to read extensively the works of other people throughout my life (and for those who are asking why I didn't spend the time writing instead of reading - well geniuses, it's easier to let yourself get entertained by other people's writing than to write you own. Not really Physics Advanced as a concept now, is it?)

Anyhooooo, reading all sorts of books from all sorts of authors made me realise that there are a number of ways to actually approach the writing of a novel, which I will try to portray here, as a sort of "Writing for Dummies - Choose Your Style to Make it Big!" guidebook. Once I actually choose what style works best for me ... you'll get to know. So ... here goes:

Austen/Dickens Style

This is the approach of writing specifically about what you know and see around you. Whether it is young marriagable women who spend their days embroidering or going to balls, or whether it is hungry, miserable orphans starving in the streets of London, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens made it big by faithfully reproducing the world around them, and writing about something that the readers at the time could totally relate to. In all fairness, it does help that readers of our time don't mind being unable to relate to their world, and that someone, somewhere decided that their works are classics and should be read and reread hundreds of years later.

If I had to take this approach, and seeing the lameness of my current life, I would base my novel on the daily adventures of a target and deadline driven government department from the point of view of a printer. I would call it Paper Jam. A real, edge-of-your-seat page turner. True story.

Ken Follett Style

This style is based on pure, thorough, detailed and exhausting research. Basically you either need to be as rich as whatevers from the get-go, or else you would have already made it big enough from the Austen/Dickens approach in order to have the money and time to actually spend years researching the trenches of World War I, or the architectural style of Medieval England. There is no way you can write something as gloriously beautiful as Pillars of the Earth without having anything else to do except research about it in some dumpy university library somewhere in England.

For the rest of us who work 45+ hours per week .... refer to the Approach 1. For those who have the time and the money ... do some research on the Great Siege like David Ball did in the Sword and The Scimitar. Fantastic read and welcomed smuttiness between a Knight and a Maltese damsel. Highly recommended, even by Tom Hanks on Twitter (I just KNOW).

Dan Brown/Michael Crichton Style

Write about nonsense, but make it sound real, and include a cliffhanger in every page. Then get Tom Hanks (hahaha mentionitis today) to play Robert Langdon in the movie version of your books. You'll get millions. And then you can go all Ken Follett on us and write something amazing.

Stephenie Meyers/Suzanne Collins Style

Now, this needs a multi-step approach, because let's face it, you need to write a saga that enthralls the Facebook generation, so you need to keep the teenagers happy, and the non-teenagers (like me v_v) so hooked to actually not be embarrassed to admit it. So, what you need to include in your swoony sagas is the following:

a. An obnoxious but still relatable heroine: Bella Swan is a complete disaster from Book 1, Katniss Everdeen is awesome until Book 3. However, the more annoying is the heroine, the more hope you give young girls that even if SHE can get the boy in the end, there is hope for the rest of us, who are more adjusted and who do not fall in love with vampires or have to fight to death in a televised arena.

b. A perfect hero: whether it is a vampire who refuses to drink human blood, or a baker's son whose aim in life is to sacrifice himself so that the heroine can make it alive from the abovementioned arena, you need to create a symbol of perfection that girls believe could actually exist. It of course helps if in the movie version the guys cast to play the role have a jawline that was friggin CHISELED BY ANGELS. *age-inappropriate swoon*

c. The useless other (hot) guy: I'm not sure why these guys are always included in such sagas. Meyers gave us Vampire v Werewolf, Collins came up with the Baker v Hunter and in both cases, the triangle added nothing but unnecessary angst to an already angsty book. It is obvious from Book 1 that these hotties will never get the girl, so I guess the only reason to put them there is to get the tweens to have two posters stuck to their wall, rather than one. But again, that somehow seems to get you millions, and bring a couple of boring actors (the love antagonists are always boring) to stardom, so I guess it's a win-win situation for some.

NB: An extremely important point to keep in mind in writing these Young Adult sagas is to take good care of the names you give your protagonists. In the age of Brangelina and TomKat, I think Suzanne Collins should have been a bit more careful when naming the Hero Peeta and the Heroine Katniss. Some more care would have avoided the actors the embarrassment of standing behind signs that said "I LOVE PEENISS". Just saying.

There are other styles of course, and I just skimmed the most obvious perhaps, but I admit that I cannot even try to understand how J.K. Rowling could have possibly created the perfect world within Harry Potter, where a school of wizards could take our world by storm. I also did not mention Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, because well, that is pretty simple: write about a mystical world and leave out the love element. This will ensure that that part of the human population that was born with a uterus would avoid it like the plague. Boring!

So, to all aspiring writers out there ... don't procrastinate like me ... but just write! Then, send me your books, and I will read them. And dissect them to pieces, in true Gracie style.

Love and read!

Grace xxx

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's time for Daddy!

It's Father's Day! Consequently, I think that there is no better occasion to introduce the other half of my genetic structure, the man who is 50% responsible for the creation of me, and thus a very generous contributor to all the quirks, eccentricities and general set-up that characterize yours truly. You have already read all about my my mum here. Now it's time for daddy!

First things first, my dad gave me olive skin that tans so fantastically that I can't help being smug about it from between late May and late October. It is also the kind of skin that was never pimply during my teenage years, which at least allowed me to worry about other angsty adolescent stuff, and be a general tearful, moody and sullen pain in the arse without having to fill the bathroom with Clearasil and Zit removers. I also inherited my nose from my dad (which frankly, I really really wish he would have refrained from giving me, especially since my mother's was just so dainty), his sleeping habits - i.e. erratic sleep patterns and insomnia (thanks again dad!), love for books (I'm infinitely grateful!), the love for travel and the general desire to look beyond the cliffs and to stop believing that this tiny rock is the centre of the universe. For this last thing especially, thanks Dad!

My dad also taught me a good deal of sarcasm (though the student's capacity has now definitely surpassed that of the mentor, as our daily conversations clearly show), a limited knowledge of English grammar usage and other useless stuff, and the strict belief that "Do It Yourself" should be left to ... others, especially since they would do everything so much better than yourself. I can safely say that my dad and I would react to a post nuclear apocalypse by attempting to rebuild the world from radioactive ashes by passing caustic comments at it. We are that useless, but kinda awesome in that way. However, where my dad fails with the hammer and the driller, he excels in the knowledge of the irrelevant, by spouting WTF trivia during dinner, or knowing the difference between "while" and "whilst", and knowing when to use "who" instead of "whom". Although let's face it, the latter just has to be the fourth secret of Fatima.

When it comes to Football (and only that), my Dad puts his foot down, and looms large as the Master of the house. There is only one team, and that is Inter Milan. Other teams should not be mentioned, supporters of such other secondary clubs should be avoided or just grudgingly humoured. Slight respect may only be shown to Real Madrid and Barcelona FC, but that is to be limited to games where said teams are playing against the second team of Milan (unmentionables) and that team from Turin who(m?) one should not even acknowledge. This knowledge is deeply ingrained in me Dad, thank you for that. Will not disappoint you on this one.

Thank you Daddy, for your teachings, your sharing of values, your jokes and for generally putting up with me. Thank you for supporting all my decisions, even if there are some you probably don't agree with. Thank you for bringing me up in a way that has allowed me to make my own choices without actually feeling the need to discuss them with you, other than to announce them once they're a fait accompli. Thanks for making me the person that messes up decisions, but then fixes them herself. I know that it does not sound exactly like a good thing, but I think that actually living my own life for the past years without having to check with you is probably the best compliment I could possibly give you. I am what I am thanks to you.

Love you loads Daddy! You get to read it here, so treasure it, because all you'll get from me today will be the usual treatment :P. Oh, and please do act surprised at your present!


Gracie xxxx

PS Happy Father's Day also to all those sweet, hot daddies who always make my trip to the Supermarket so much more pleasant!!!!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Random Gracieness

I was asked, by some of the people who regularly follow my blog (scarily loyal and amazing people I believe) why I did not dissect, limb by limb, moonwalk by moonwalk, note by note, last week’s Eurovision song contest. Those who know me personally know the whole story, those who don’t ... well let’s just say that you need to know that blood is thicker than sarcasm. So no ... all eurobashing will have to wait until next year ;).

This made me realise just how much I actually missed make some good, harmless and innocent fun of other people, and how really enjoyable that is. So today, I’m just going to allow you all that opportunity by asking you to join me in some good natured and jovial laughing at myself. Yes, that’s it ... today I’m going to give you all the ammo and fodder you need to poke all the fun you want at me next time you meet me. Just make sure, that if you’re a good looking bloke, you don’t have a beautiful woman with legs up to my neck hanging from your arms. That makes me insecure... and an insecure Gracie is no fun to be around, especially if she decides to wallow in a corner drinking diet coke.

Anyway, here goes. These are the random facts about me that should provide you with some conversation ice-breakers and an entertaining half an hour at my own expense :D:

United Nations

I love the United Nations, I follow what it does and I’m one of its biggest fans. This is not really because it has served as a guarantor (for the time being) against a new World War, because let’s face it, all it takes is for Mr Barack Obama (Mr Obama!!! Mr Obama!!!! – that’s my best Berlusconi impersonation yet) and Mr Ahmedinwhatyoucallhimfromiran to wake up in a grumpy mood, and bham, there we go again with ze nuclears. My love for the United Nations is not even wholly due to the amazing names of its Secretary Generals – does anyone remember Boutros Boutros Ghali??? I mean ... how awesome is that? “Oh I am sooo pleased to meet you, my name is Gracie Gracie Fancysurname. Enchanted, truly!” No actually, I love the United Nations because the first time I ate sushi EVER in my life was in their canteen in Vienna. Random mentions of sushi this week made me remember this fact, and it does bring extremely good memories of a trip there back in 2003. Good times.


I love Barcelona. Everyone who knows me in the slightest heard that, on multiple occasions. What might not be totally general knowledge is that I slept in a military tent on a beach in Barcelona for a week in August of 2004 and I was woken up every morning by this song. Strange times ... and the pulled muscle from the hard bunkbeds remained painful until the following April. Fantastic!


I shop at It’s girly, flowery and cheap, which should be a good indication to NOT go on and on about famous and expensive fashion brands that I cannot afford. That makes me grumpy. I also glaze when you mention shoes, but I love handbags. I love Furla, but I don’t own anything of the brand. Can’t afford it either.

F*** my life. On incidentally, this reminds of an amazing website I discovered while volunteering in Ghana. Don’t judge me, there was a mouse in the kitchen and no running water. So there.

Future family plans

I want daughters and I have a Blackberry application to prove it (and assist me). Future husband (or husbands, because really – who am I kidding? Monogamy with the bitch from hell??) are not allowed to formulate an opinion on the matter, and is expected to think pink. And fluffy. Now that we’re on topic, where the HELL is my future husband? Hmmm … oh right. He’s in Milan, coaching Inter Fc, sporting a chin dimple *swoon* and not thinking pink. Or fluffy.



I love songs that make me cry and are not too mainstream. But I also need to come out of my musical superiority closet and admit that yes, I also love Taylor Swift. It took me a long time to come to terms with it, but there are only so many times that one can find oneself singing “I hear the preacher say speak now or forever hold your pee eee eee ace!” or “keep your feet reaaaaady, heart beat steaaaady, kee eeep your eyes oooopen” without knowing there is really some Swift love going on. And I know that it doesn’t help that when I sing I sound like Katy Perry, KeSha and Lana Del Rey all rolled into one … without autotune. However, rest assured that I do draw the line at Justin Bieber though, no matter how many times he sensually wonders what it would be like to be my boyfriend. And no amount of improbable chest hair growth would ever convince me otherwise.

Ok, so that was a little taste of Gracie quirks to set you going next time you meet me. I don’t really drink, but a glass of 35 South would ensure other stories to surface. Until then, keep tuned!

Quirky and steaaaaaaady love,

Gracie :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Straight but not narrow

A dear friend of mine, much loved and much admired (by me and all who know him) brought the video below to my attention some days ago, and I was truly touched to the core, both by the story shown therein, but even more by his reaction to it - the hurt at being hit "too close to home" and the actual fear that this might happen to him and his partner.

Unfortunately, I couldn't share his feelings towards his video as much as I would have wanted to, because in reality, this is a situation that I am lucky enough to be able to avoid, because I was born in the comfortable normality of the socially accepted side of sexuality. I am straight, so my love for my partner will be never frowned upon, discriminated against, and ignored by both family and the legal and political structures.

Because I see the above as an obvious state of fact, I still can't understand why a discussion on gay marriage/union/whathaveyou still subsists. What on earth is there to discuss? In a world where every kind of hatred is somehow justified, where war is fought in the name of a supernatural deity, I can't understand why there is a still a vociferous majority that refuses to believe that there are many forms of love that can exist, and that two consenting adults may choose to love whoever they please, because really ... how is that love affecting the rest of us?

I refuse to accept people pontificating at me, so I will not pontificate myself and stop here. However, I would just like to say that it's ok to be straight, it's ok to be gay but it is even better not to be narrow.

And while we're discussing this, let me just add that it is also ok to be black, white, green, red or blue. The most important is that while we're at it, we never forget to breathe and live the incandescent beauty of the various shades of grey.

So please watch this video ... and also visit this site: You will see that with this kind of thinking, you are in very good company.